By MALCOLM STRACHAN
AFTER the almost complete wipeout of the Progressive Liberal Party on May 10, 2017, many believed it would be the end of former Prime minister Perry Christie’s political career - and the end of the PLP’s relevance as one of the two major parties.
Fast forward two-plus years and only one of those opinions may be unequivocally true. Certainly, Perry Christie’s legacy ended unceremoniously, as he lost his seat to a now isolated Member of Parliament.
Nonetheless, Christie’s reign has left the PLP with a seemingly unshakeable stink no matter how much the party’s leadership tries to rebrand. The Bahamian people are simply not buying what they’re selling – not yet.
If all the returned leadership team of Philip “Brave” Davis, Chester Cooper, Fred Mitchell and Robin Lynes were hoping for at last week’s PLP convention was to excite their core supporters, then it may have not been an absolute waste of time. However, that alone won’t secure them an election victory in 2022.
It’s not implausible to believe they would have to hope for a complete botching of the next three years of the Minnis administration - with too many familiar faces in their current make-up.
Looking lower on the political landscape, the DNA are still not seen as a viable alternative. And with only a short time to drum up the kind of support that wins an election, an upset victory is unlikely for the fledgling party.
The Bahamas is still very much a two-party country.
Davis and company know this. Perhaps this is why there has been less urgency on the part of the PLP to truly rebrand with fresh faces. Deputy leader Chester Cooper, for all his potential, still remains a token figure in the minds of many Bahamians who believe any potential PLP government will still be formed with faces we really no longer wish to see in frontline politics.
Davis’ connection to the not-so-distant Christie administration has not been more prominent than this past week as tensions became obvious in the lead-up to the PLP convention.
Christie’s command of the leadership of the PLP was evident throughout the eight-year period from 2009–2017 where the party did not have a constitutionally mandated convention. Many observers credit this to Christie’s resistance to relinquishing power, which his successor Brave Davis should know all too well.
Christie, who promised to step down as leader and prime minister by the middle of his administration’s last term in governance, ultimately reneged on that promise. Subsequently, Davis did not get his chance for leadership until Christie was banished from the political scene in the election. Now, Davis has shown during the events leading up to the convention a resemblance to his former leader.
As last week began with subtle barbs exchanged between returning PLP chairman Fred Mitchell and Obie Wilchcombe, the former sought to make Davis’ desires for the leadership team of Davis, Cooper, Mitchell and Lynes to run unopposed at the convention known to all and sundry.
“No one expected, indeed the party faithful were promised a unified convention and now it appears from various voice notes and video clips that there is a propaganda campaign which is going on which is distracting us from the central job, or has the potential to do so, because it appears there is going to be some contest,” said Mitchell in a voice note that made the rounds throughout the country.
Davis, although calling the process democratic the entire time, also made it quite evident that he had no interest in Wilchcombe usurping Mitchell as the party’s chairman.
Sharing details from a conversation between himself and Wilchcombe, Davis said: “I say here what I have been saying to fellow PLPs: whoever wants to run for any position should run.
“This is the time to sort these kinds of things out. I feel very good about the current team’s forward momentum.
“But if Obie wants to make an argument about why he should be chairman, he should do so.
“He came to ask me about running and I told him I don’t see that he has the support. But if he sees things differently, no one is standing in his way.”
Wilchcombe’s second loss in his pursuit of the PLP chairmanship in two years - this time by nearly 500 votes - evidences that Davis didn’t have to stand in his way.
However, just as the delegates were not interested in Wilchcombe becoming the spokesperson of the party, a large portion of the Bahamian people experience a similar unsettling feeling about the PLP leading the country again.
Despite their penchant to promote themselves as a changed party, they still look very much the same.
Notwithstanding a passionate contribution from deputy leader Chester Cooper where he outlined the vision for the country under the PLP, the Bahamian people know these are the things conventions and rallies are made of – their sole purpose being to ignite a party’s base. Unfortunately, for all of Cooper’s promise, the traumatic period of 2012-2017 under the PLP is one the Bahamian people may not yet be ready to forgive – at least not without witnessing real change.
In 2017, the PLP missed a great opportunity in harnessing the mind of former Attorney General Alfred Sears. Seen as a true visionary, it is dumbfounding to many why he is not being elevated in the party. Perhaps this is why many Bahamians are not buying the PLP rebrand. Although many still cling to hope Sears is waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike, others understand this game is all about controlling the power within the party.
Unfortunately, bright minds like Sears lack the support from within and are therefore wasted towing the party line.
With the party firmly in the grip of the Davis team, we can expect an energised campaign to ensue as the PLP tries to make the most of the attention following the convention.
Time will tell if any of their efforts mattered to the Bahamian people.